Grigor The Great: Strokes Of Genius Lands Dimitrov In Paris Masters Final

Grigor Dimitrov (photo: Rolex Paris Masters/YouTube video)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, November 4, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

The last three times that Grigor Dimitrov and Stefanos Tsitsipas have faced each other it’s been decided by a third-set tie-break. So, it should come as no surprise that when these two Top-20 foes met in the semifinal round of the Rolex Paris Masters Saturday, with each seeking to advance to their first ATP Masters 1000 final this season, it would take a third-set tie-break to determine the winner.

After the last point of the 199 points they contested had ended, it was the World No. 17 Dimitrov from Bulgaria raising his arms in victory. His 6-3, 6-7 (1), 7-6 (3) win over World No. 6 Tsitsipas of Greece lifted him into his first ATP Masters 1000 title match in six years. He has now garnered 41 tour-level wins this season. It’s only the third time Dimitrov has reached 40 victories in a season in his career.

On Sunday, Dimitrov will go for his 42nd triumph of 2023 when he faces World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic, who came from behind to pull out a three-set thrilling victory over No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev, 5-7, 7-6 (3), 7-5, in three hours and one minute, in the second semifinal.

“I am just happy I was able to get through that match in such a manner,” said Dimitrov, who hit 38 winners, won 78 percent of his service points and saved all four break points he faced from Tsitsipas, all while showing great improvisational skills about the Court Central.

“After that second set, especially the tie-break, it was getting very tricky again. Fifteen-40 down in the third again and I was just thinking it can’t keep going like this, so I have to change something. In order to beat someone like him I just had to step through. That is the only thing I could have done.

“Throughout the match I felt I was doing a lot of good things and in the middle of the second [set] he picked up his game and in the end I waited for the tie-break.”

It was during the decisive tie-break that Dimitrov rose to the occasion and produced some of his best – and, arguably, most exciting – tennis with the match hanging in the balance. He zoomed to a 5-0 lead with a one-fisted backhand cross-court winner and built upon it with a forehand down-the-line winner for 6-2. Soon, Dimitrov struck a backhand passing shot winner on match point to win in two hours and 31 minutes.

“I played very good [in the tie-break],” Dimitrov said during his post-match interview. “The first five points in the tie-break were excellent. I took those chances and that was all I could do against such a high-quality player. If you let him dictate, you are done. But I kept on believing and kept staying focused and made sure every time I had the ball on the racquet, I did something with it.”

The victory boosted Dimitrov into his first ATP Masters 1000 final since he won the title at Cincinnati in 2017. The last time he won a title of any kind when he lifted the trophy at the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals in London.

Next, Dimitrov will face Djokovic in Sunday’s championship final. It will be their 13th career meeting and Dimitrov has only beaten Djokovic once and not since 2013 on clay in Madrid. The 32-year-old Bulgarian has risen to No. 14 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. If he wins the Paris title, he will climb to No. 12 on Monday.

Djokovic remains perfect in Rolex Paris Masters semifinals

Meanwhile, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia did what he often does best — coming from behind and pulling victory from the jaws of defeat. He overcame No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev after having a 10-minute, on-court physio treatment on his ailing lower back after winning a second-set tie-break. However, after three hours and a minute of drama, the top-seeded Djokovic prevailed over the World No. 5 Rublev from Russia, 5-7, 7-6 (3), 7-5, for his 17th-straight win. It moved Djokovic to within one victory of a record-extending seventh Rolex Paris Masters crown.

Djokovic’s latest win improved his record in Paris-Bercy semifinals to 9-0. On Sunday, he will go for his 40th career ATP Masters 1000 title when he faces unseeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria.

In his on court interview after the victory, Djokovic, who finished with 17 aces, hit 40 winners overall and outpointed Rublev 117-113, was asked what was the difference between winning and losing. He said: “I think breathing a little bit more and having a little bit more time and space to hit the ball.

“Rublev was suffocating me like a snake suffocates a frog for most of the match. He was playing an extremely high level that he possesses, but today he was off the charts, honestly. I don’t think I’ve ever faced Rublev this good.”

Although Rublev mustered 16 aces and struck 51 winners, it was ultimately a bittersweet double fault on match point that broke his serve for only the second and clinched the semifinal victory for Djokovic. It was the third straight match this week that Djokovic had been pushed to three sets.

“I was struggling with my fitness again a little bit at the beginning, but I kind of went through it,” Djokovic said. “It was crucial obviously to win the second set. The tie-break, I served very well and that helped.

“In the third set, I thought I was always there in his service games, having chances. He came up with some big serves when he needed to, but in the end, a double fault. An unfortunate ending for him, but I think I deserved it considering the amount of effort and fight I put in, especially in the third.”

Around the Rolex Paris Masters

No. 3 seeds Rohan Bopanna of India and Matthew Ebden of Australia rallied from a set down to beat unseeded Harri Heliovaara of Finland and Mate Pavic of Croatia, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 10-6, in 87 minutes to advance to Sunday’s Rolex Paris Masters doubles final. The Indian/Aussie duo, who have dropped only one set this week, won 88 percent of their service points compared to 73 percent for their opponents and saved all three break points they faced. They outpointed their Heliovaara and Pavic 74-65.

In Sunday’s final, Bopanna and Ebden will face No. 7 seeds Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico and Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France, who defeated  No. 4 seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain, 6-3, 6-3, in 63 minutes, by taking advantage of four service breaks.

Bopanna and Ebden, who have won 12 of the last 14 matches, have won two titles this season – at Doha and Indian Wells. Currently in third place in the Pepperstone ATP Live Doubles Team Rankings, they have a chance to move to the top spot should they win the Paris title.

Saturday’s Rolex Paris Masters results

Sunday’s Rolex Paris Masters order of play

By the numbers

Novak Djokovic has become the eighth player on the ATP Tour this season with at least 50 wins. His semifinal win against Andrey Rublev improved his record to 50-5. The seven players who have already won at least 50 matches are: Daniil Medvedev (64-16), Carlos Alcaraz (63-10), Jannik Sinner (57-14), Andrey Rublev (56-22), Taylor Fritz (54-23), Alexander Zverev (53-26), Stefanos Tsitsipas (51-21).

“Quotable …”

“I think for me one of the things that I have always been very fond of is to improve on whatever level I can. For example, now I have improved quite a bit of my fitness level, my nutrition, like, there are so many things I feel I have improved. I think overall the consistency that I’m showing on and off the court is something you learn and that you learn only with maturity, with time.”

Grigor Dimitrov, during his Friday post-match press conference, on how he’s improved as a player and person since achieving the World No. 3 ranking six years ago.

“He has been playing much better in the past few weeks since working with Boris,” said Djokovic on Rune, who started working with Djokovic’s former coach Boris Becker last month. “It was strange seeing Boris in the opposing box. I wish Holger and him all the best.”

Novak Djokovic, during his Friday post-match interview following his win over Holger Rune, commenting on Rune and Boris Becker.